Federal Elections

The second Tuesday of November in even number years has become known as Election Day in the United States. But that has not always been the case. States were initially given a 34-day window to select Presidential electors. The deadline for the selection of electors was the first Wednesday in December.

The month of November was chosen for voting because crops would have been harvested by then and snow would generally not be a problem. The end of the year months were selected to allow for transition to a new government at close to the beginning of a new year.

While states could pick a specific day of the week, Tuesday became the preferred day. This would allow voters to attend church and travel to the voting place on a Monday.

The telegraph was the impetus for selecting a common election date in every state. The telegraph was thought to influence elections of one state’s results impacted the results in other states that voted later. In 1845, Congress declared that the election date would be the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. States gradually brought their elections in agreement with this date.

In the beginning, state legislators chose the electors for President. It was possible for voters in a state to choose one candidate for President while the legislature selected electors for another candidate. Andrew Jackson lost the 1824 election because state legislators did not select electors who represented the majority votes of the citizens in several states.

Overtime, electors were selected by popular vote. In some states, electors are chosen by popular votes in Congressional districts rather than statewide.

While federal elections are thought by most people to be set by the U.S. Constitution, that is not the case. There has been continuing tinkering with election practices throughout the history of the United States. That thinking continues today. Some want the President to be selected by popular vote, while others want a return to 18th Century practices of having state legislators determine the elections in spite of their citizens’ wishes.

In many cases, beginnings can be gradual and it’s hard to settle on an actual beginning moment. That’s the case with the practices for selection of a President. There have been many beginnings leading to where we are today and possibly beginnings yet to come.

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“You wouldn’t let your grandparents pick your playlist. Why would you let them pick your representative who’s going to determine your future?” – Barack Obama


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